Stalls, Inertia and Progress

I’ve followed a ridiculous amount of indie and small developer projects over the last couple years and watched them just peter out and vanish into the ether.  Hell, I’ve started quite a few that have gone the same way.. unfinished paintings, games, websites, etc.  So why does this keep happening?  What can we do about it?

Well.. It seems to be all about preventing Stalls and building Inertia to make manageable Progress.

Stalls

By ‘Stalls’ I mean it literally like a plane..  Sometimes projects get caught up on a glitch, bug or feature that is unexpectedly problematic or simply a massive chore to complete.  Then the motivation to work on it stops being fun and an awful lot like work.  That’s not a problem if it’s your day job, you can button down and just work through it, but for the indie developer who is doing this in their spare time, once development stalls everything else starts looking more and more interesting and exciting. The longer the project remains stalled the stronger the chance is that the project is going to crash and burn.

So here’s a couple thoughts on recovering from when your project seems to be stalling and the enthusiasm is waning that seem to be working for me.

  • in my task list, I keep several parallel development tracks.  So if UI development gets bogged down, I can simply just get it to a basically compiling state and hop over and work on something else in the project, like art assets , AI or path-finding.
  • but sometimes you just get sick of the whole project.   If you’re like me, you keep running across things/tech you want to try and work with, so keep a folder/binder/google doc around where you can jot down ideas for short exploratory exercises however it’s essential that they pertain to some shared functionality with your ongoing project.  So give yourself a day or two to work on it (like making a demo with a new api or skinning a UI library or something) Then force yourself the next day to IMPLEMENT it in your current project.
  • but some times you simply have to force yourself to sit down and bite the bullet.  Schedule some time, get away from distractions and simply sit down then work through it… yeah sounds stupid, but the ‘Schedule some time’ part is what makes this the hardest approach.  Which brings me to the next problem

Inertia

The fact that this isn’t a dayjob for many indies it means that life can sometimes turn the smallest molehil into a mountain, because Everything is a competition for your time, and the rolling rock of your project can’t go uphill very far on its own.  So we need to build up momentum in our project, make it feel like it has got a life of its own or decrease the amount of work it takes to get it rolling again once it comes to a complete stop.  Because, your time is precious and limited (even more so when you start having to work around a family life and maintaining a home) I tend to lean heavily toward the second approach, decrease the amount of effort needed for the next milestone.  I can imagine that the first approach would work well if you have a small team where everyone is all rushing forward together, so when one person stumbles the ball keeps rolling along and lets them catch up after their personal disaster has passed.  However I’m just me by myself so my tips lean toward:

  • Get your project compiling as early as possible.
  • Add basic core gameplay as soon as possible.
  • Build you milestones on that and make them each a standalone ‘functional’ improvement.

Because, sooner or later, something is going to come up and you’ll have to step away from your daily progress for a week or two, like children, broken computers, holidays, family vacations, household chores etc etc.  And when you come back to having time to work on your project you gotta hop back on the ball and be able to easily see where and what to do so you can get to that next ‘hey I’ve made something cool!’ moment and prevent yourself from stalling out.

Progress

Progress is king.  Progress also doesn’t like being kept in the corner. Getting your project to a point where you can shout out about your progress, via tweets to #screenshotsaturday, self serving blog posts like this, friends and family on Facebook, myspace, g+ or whatever is essential. Take pride in your progress. Get used to practicing saying in public that you’re working on something, have made progress and show it off.  Make it real to you and it will be that much harder to drop when the new toy sheen tarnishes and you have to spend a week debugging the text editor.  It seems almost impossible at times and the odds of actually finishing something really are stacked against you but it can be done.  And with great success.  MinMax did it over a period of two years,  CokeAndCode is doing it, RampantCoyote has done it,  all of them with keeping a dayjob, family and real-life’s responsibilities.

I hope to do it too.

[deleted a bunch of excuses for my lack of progress.. lets just chalk it down to life’s little mountains]

 

Facebook Slick Contest And More

So not quite a screenshot Saturday… how about a paper prototype pass?

A quick paper prototype for Something exciting

Does time fly or what?

So ‘Interesting’ stuff is happening

In a bizarre twist I’ve wound up having to dive head first into the world of facebook apps.  So I’ve made a couple apps.

First up is a Simple Level Counter for use in card games… Like Munchkin (though I’d recommend their mobile phone App for that.. it’s awesome)

Next up, is much less useful (for now) a proof of concept Swiftthought Demo app.   This is an actual Slick applet that’s running inside a facebook frame.  Now that’s got potential.

So much potential that I was looking for any excuse to give it a real go.

And then a Slick2d contest started.

So I guess that’s that.  Now I’ve got a pile of consulting work to get wrapped up by contest start of the 15th so that should work out just fine.  But I’ve gone ahead and started thinking and planning a bit last night, which is what the paper prototype is all about.

I have a couple family things to do this weekend but other than that it’s crank out website goodness 🙂 Pretty proud of it actually..

IrisEdit Screenshot Saturday

In an attempt to keep updating this on a more regular basis here’s the first of (hopefully) many Screenshot Saturday.

a screenshot of the almost complete level editorThis is a screenshot of the irisEdit map editor on my dev box.  At this point it’s 90% complete.  There’s a glitch in the saving/reloading that needs tweaking but other than that it’s ready to start building levels in.   At which point I’ll move to the live databse over at editor.irismel.com

Unfortunately this week was full of all sorts of fun freelance stuff and prep for the baby’s 1st birthday party (in roughly 11 hrs from now)  so I didn’t get the editor wrapped up.. but hopefully I can get it knocked out Sunday if I’m lucky.  Next week promises to be full of more and maybe even some new paying client work, which of course takes precedence over BSDDoD! progress.

What I’m Playing:

  • http://insideastarfilledsky.net/ A recursive, larger than the Galaxy  shooter.  From the guy who made Sleep is Death (more coverage of that over on RPS) which was a lot of fun to play with P.
  • Bejeweled 3... because it’s like sparkly snappy happy crack…. especially some of the new gamemodes.
  • X3 Terran Conflict – the last, best, biggest, entry in the X series of intergalactic space trader conquer the galaxy games (available on steam)
  • But with a new Minecraft patch hitting tuesday… all bets are off for the next week.

Tales of puppets, babies, games etc

Latest News

So here we are, another year is already on the way and it’s time to get busy.

As of today baby Jude is ~45days out and counting, lots of house prep is being done and more still to do.  Excitement is high and nesting mode is in full swing.  The home office has been moved into the game room and the new space works well and the start of a dedicated baby room is in progress.  Super Awesome GFW has got her etsy store up and running, and a whole kitchen studio full of paint and canvas.  90% of all pictures on the walls in the house are now original art, and man is that nice.

Christmas came and went in a blur of cookies, candy, family and food.  When it was all said and done my very own muppet Whatnot was here to stay.  He’s pictured above, and it’s very very cool.  I have plans for him.  Big plans.  But first I’m gonna need a couple mutant sheep puppets.

Speaking of Mutant Sheep.. With the death of my POS Kodak all in one printer I no longer have a scanner.  So I’m having to switch to an all digital pipeline.. which may be faster once I get rolling on it.. but it does mean that I can’t doodle out the roughs at work and then take em home and ink em.  Other than that, it’s back to grindstone and get em finished asap!  Progress on it has been pretty abysmal lately and I’m not exactly thrilled with that, not sure what the mental block/holdup is but it’s time to work through it.

That is, just as soon as I wrap up a bit more paying design / web work.  The freelance developer & designer side of things is really picking up lately and I hope to keep it rolling throughout the year.  So naturally that stuff comes first, before Sheep.

Gaming

The holidays were full of super end of year sales, the most impressive was probably the insane Steam sale, lots of awesomeness was picked up at a pittance.  So here’s a list of the gaming highlights.

  • Dragon Age: Traditional fantasy RPG, polished like nothing else.
  • Kings Bounty: Insane Fantasy turn based combat with a happy disregard for tradition.
  • Mirrors Edge: First person runner.  Not sure why this wasn’t a bigger hit.
  • Garrys Mod:  A multiplayer physics based playgound, had a lot of fun building airships with kiddo an just doing strange stuff.
  • Left for Dead 2: Better than the first one, more zombies, more guns, for when you just want to shoot.
  • Machinarium: A beautiful hand drawn adventure game with so much character its hard to believe.
  • STALKER – Clear Sky: Post Chernobyl fps world to explore full of mutants and more.

And in board games:

We have played the first game of Pandemic.  A co-op board game where you have to work together to save the world from 4 diseases, HIGHLY recommended.  And I have a copy of Arkahm Horror sitting on my desk waiting to have a day dedicated to it.

Slow progress

So progress in sheepsville has been..well.. slow..
I’ve got another dozen or so sheep painted and ready to go into their cards, but overall, progress has been a fraction of what it needs to be.

The upside, however, is that I’ve gotten a bunch of freelance work (that’s right, I’ll work for money) and that’s pretty much all wrapped up for now.

I’ve started the process of reworking the site theme. Currently I’ve got the new headers and superfish menus in place, and gotten a jquery lightbox up and running, the menu’s need a bit more work though. Also, we now have a gallery.

All that remains is the re-styling of the content and sidebar and drawing a new site background image.

But first up, www.Wenderflonia.com is gearing up for a massive overhaul and that’s #1 in the priority list. Keep an eye out for it, we’ll have art commissions, prints and more goodies coming soon.

And more sheep. I must make more picture of sheep, and get an accurate count of exactly how many I still have left to finish.

That’s it for now. Further updates shortly.